Big adds unlikely; Astros could deal at Meetings
Houston could free up payroll by trading Rodriguez, Myers
HOUSTON -- Coming off a season in which they lost a franchise-record 106 games, the Astros certainly have plenty of uncertainties as they enter the Winter Meetings.
The team remains committed to young players at most of its areas of concern and is on the record as saying it won't be spending much money on the free-agent market, so don't expect the Astros to bring in a bunch of new faces to fill some of the weaker spots on their club.
The Astros are working without a full-time general manager -- assistant GM David Gottfried is handling the duties on an interim basis following the dismissal of Ed Wade -- and will be trying to make inroads to fill that spot while in Dallas. On the field, they will need to find a starting shortstop now that Clint Barmes is with the Pirates.
Pitching isn't something the Astros are going to be addressing. The rotation returns intact and has potential, assuming Wandy Rodriguez and/or Brett Myers don't get traded. Both are due big salaries next year and could be moved in new ownership's effort to continue to reduce payroll.
There is a wealth of young arms in the bullpen, and Brandon Lyon will return healthy next year. In addition to shortstop, there are questions about who will play first base, third base and right field. Those spots are likely to be filled by players who were on the roster a year ago.
Carlos Lee, who's entering the final year of a six-year, $100 million deal, has a no-trade clause and will make $19 million next year (including his pro-rated bonus), but he could be moved if the Astros are willing to take some money back.
Below is another look at the club's offseason checklist:
Shortstop: Barmes, last season's starter, signed a two-year deal with the Pirates, leaving a void at shortstop. This is the one area in which the Astros may be forced to spend some money, considering Jonathan Villar -- the club's shortstop of the future -- isn't quite ready, and there are some concerns about the ability of Jimmy Paredes to make the move to shortstop from third base. Angel Sanchez can play there, but isn't an everyday player.
Backup catcher: Jason Castro should be healthy for 2012 after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and Humberto Quintero has proven to be a very solid backup. Still, with Castro's workload likely to be monitored heavily, the Astros could be looking to add a third catcher who also has the ability to play other positions to ease the burden on Castro and Quintero.
Right field: The platoon of Brian Bogusevic, a left-handed bat, and Jason Bourgeois worked out quite well last year. Bogusevic showed some pop and Bourgeois, when healthy, had speed to burn and enjoyed his best offensive season. If Carlos Lee is moved to left, J.D. Martinez could end up in right field. The position is still very much up in the air, but the Astros are unlikely to fill it externally.
Who they can or need to trade:
RHP Brett Myers and LHP Wandy Rodriguez: Any trades the Astros make at this point, short of acquiring a shortstop, will be done for monetary reasons. Rodriguez is scheduled to make $10.5 million next year and Myers will earn $12 million, a pair of salaries that go against what new ownership is trying to do by building through player development. Look for Houston to shop the pitchers in Dallas.
Top prospects: RHP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton, Villar, OF George Springer, RHP Paul Clemens, OF Domingo Santana, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, 1B/OF Telvin Nash and 2B Delino DeShields Jr.
Cosart, Singleton, Clemens, Santana and Oberholtzer joined the organization earlier this year via trades of star players, and Springer was the team's first-round Draft pick. Clemens is most likely to make an impact at the Major League level next year, but the Astros aren't going to hold back any young players who are ready to be challenged.
Big contracts they might unload:
Rodriguez: He's due $10.5 million next year and $13 million in 2013, so he's a prime candidate to be moved. That's a hefty sum of money, but complicating matters is he would be owed another $13 million for '14 if he changes uniforms. Still, some team could take that on, once fellow lefties C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle are off the market.
Myers: The pitcher signed an extension near the end of his terrific 2010 season that paid him a guaranteed $23 million over the next two seasons, plus an $11 million club option for '13 that could become guaranteed based on his '12 performance.
Arbitration eligible: LHP J.A. Happ and Quintero.
Non-tender candidates: None.
Payroll summation: Astros owner Jim Crane said the payroll will go down before it goes up. Crane wants to put a competitive club on the field through player development and then begin to spend in free agency when revenues begin to rise. The Astros have $47 million committed to four players next year, and unless they can trade Rodriguez or Myers, their payroll figures to come in around the $60 million range. Trading Rodriguez or Myers could drop it under $50 million.